Tags: flu | shot | risks | benefits | overstated | cdc | johns

Johns Hopkins Scientist Blasts CDC for Pushing Flu Shot

Friday, 14 Jun 2013 03:25 PM

By Nick Tate

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Federal health authorities vastly overstate the benefits of the flu shot and, for most healthy people, vaccination is unnecessary at best and potentially risky at worst, a Johns Hopkins scientist tells Newmax's Steve Malzberg.
 
Peter Doshi, an influenza expert with the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, contends vaccines pushed by health authorities are less effective and cause more side effects than acknowledged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Doshi, who recently published a withering report on influenza vaccines in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), says the studies that inform CDC's flu policy show the vaccine doesn’t cover all strains of flu, and that life-threatening complications from influenza are fairly rare, but side effects can be serious.
 
"I’m not convinced that influenza is a major public health threat so I have problems with the overarching policy [pushing flu shots], but on a personal level I fit in the healthy adults [category] and so influenza’s particularly not a threat for me and for most healthy adults," says Doshi, noting he doesn’t get the flu shot himself.   
 
"This is a disease which is unpleasant if you do get it and most people don’t get it — it’s far more rare than we think — and this is again one of the big problems … we’re lead to think that everybody’s getting it and everyone is at risk for serious complications. The risk is quite a bit lower than we’re led to believe."
 
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Doshi also notes that the vaccine approved every year doesn’t protect against all circulating strains of the flu, so it doesn’t offer the protection against flu complications it’s believed to confer. The flu is caused by many different viral and microbial strains, with just one in six cases of flu actually tied to influenza, he argues.
 
"So if you imagine this as the perfect vaccine that works 100 percent of the time that means it’s going to work against one in six flu [cases]," he says. "You would think it would work 100 percent of the time but it's not.

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"The other side is even if you do want to reduce whatever small [flu] risk there may be, it’s not clear at all that influenza vaccines are going to prevent the serious outcomes that really the reason the vaccine exists. If you want to take the vaccine to lower your risk of having influenza, there is some evidence that it does do that but … you need to vaccinate between 33 and 100 healthy adults for just one of those people to avoid having influenza."
 
Doshi notes that promoting influenza vaccines is one of the most aggressive public health policies in the United States, with drug companies and public officials pressing for widespread vaccination each fall.
 
CDC officials argue flu vaccines are important because influenza comes with a risk of serious complications that can cause death, especially in seniors and those with chronic illnesses. The agency cites two studies of influenza vaccines — published in peer-reviewed scientific journals and carried out by academic and government researchers with non-commercial funding — that both found a large (up to 48 percent) reduction in the risk of death.
 
But Doshi argues those reported reduction in death rates may be due to the "healthy-user effect" — the tendency for healthier people to be vaccinated more than less-healthy people. What’s more, other research on the effects of influenza vaccine in older people found no decrease in deaths and a study released in February found that the flu shot was only 9 percent effective in protecting seniors against the 2012-2013 season's most virulent influenza bug.

"People are lead to hold these unrealistically high expectations of what this vaccine can do given all the marketing around it when there’s no reason to have those high expectations," Doshi contends.
 
Doshi says marketing the flu shot is big business, but even otherwise well-meaning doctors and health officials get caught up in promoting the vaccine.
 
"There’s money involved everywhere but that, I don’t think, is really how to understand or explain why a lot of people with good intentions like your own doctor are also unaware of most of the evidence here," he says. "Your doctor is not likely doing his own homework on this. They’re relying on sources like CDC to tell us what the evidence says.
"And … have you ever heard the phrase, don't just stand there, do something? Well no matter how bad the evidence might look for this vaccine — how poor the effectiveness might be — if there’s something, they take the position that something is always better than nothing."
 
The problem, he adds, is that the flu vaccine — like all medicine — carries a risk of side effects.

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"I don’t want to put any false scares out here because mostly this appears to be a safe vaccine [but] that doesn’t mean that harms don’t occur," he notes. "So when we think that this is risk free we’re wrong. In fact in Australia and Sweden and Finland they had some serious [flu-shot-related] adverse events that nobody predicted that occurred just in 2009." 

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